The Medical Marijuana Fight Hits Virginia

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- The debate continues about whether to legalize medical marijuana; not just across the country, but also in Virginia.

The Collins family (left) and the Rhoden family (right) are working for medical marijuana to become legal in Virginia.

Two families, both with roots in Virginia, find themselves at the center of the medical marijuana debate. They want lawmakers and government agencies to change the medicine their children receive in hopes of saving their lives.

She can light up the room with her laugh and is so full of energy you sometimes you can miss her running around the house. Like most toddlers, Lucy Rhoden can name every Disney character in her toy chest; but at any given moment her world can freeze.

"I worry every day this is the day she is going to die. I worry every time she has a seizure, this is going to be the time that she isn't going to come back from it," said Melissa Rhoden, Lucy's mom.

When Lucy was one-year-old, doctors diagnosed her with a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome. Every day she takes six different medications to try and control her seizures and handle the side effects.

"It seems like every time we have to get her a medication we get a new Lucy. I do not know if I have ever got to know the actual child that is mine," said Rhoden.

Rhoden said oil from a marijuana plant, called Charlotte's Web, could save Lucy's life. Some doctors say it contains low enough levels of THC that she couldn't get high.

Eight months ago, Beth Collins moved her daughter, Jennifer, from Virginia to Colorado so she could try medical marijuana. On average, Jennifer suffered 300 seizures a day.

"It shouldn't be so hard to treat your child to get your child the medical care they need. It just shouldn't be such a struggle. We shouldn't have to separate our family," said Beth Collins, Jennifer's mother.

After five months of taking Charlotte's Web, Jennifer has experienced 85 to 90 percent fewer seizures. Her mother said she is improving and has regained her ability to remember things.

"We do think it is good. It has been a mixed thing though because Jennifer herself has said you know, 'I will take the seizures. I want to go home,'" said Collins.

Medical marijuana is a Schedule I drug. Back in 1979, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law allowing marijuana to treat certain illnesses; but under federal law, you cannot prescribe, possess or transport marijuana into Virginia.

Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith recently put forth legislation to make marijuana a Schedule II drug, which would remove it from the "not currently accepted" medical use category. This move would allow research and also let doctors prescribe it in states where you can legally have it, like Virginia.

"The bill doesn't go as far as Colorado or Washington, but it allows real doctors with real distributors control to use marijuana in a real way medical way," said Griffith at a hearing.

"Everyone has a different opinion about what is appropriate," said Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who said he believes marijuana is a dangerous drug.

"So I do not think a solution on this would be to legalize marijuana. And with regards to medical marijuana there are no studies out there that support any finding that medical marijuana helps with any illness of any kind that is not already helped by medicine," said Goodlatte.

The view about medical marijuana could change, especially after new information coming out of a Capitol Hill hearing with the Food and Drug Administration.

"Marijuana contains compounds to provide important new treatments for important diseases and rigorous studies are need to look at their potential and where appropriate deliver new drugs for use by Americans," said Dr. Doug Throckmorton, the deputy director of the regulatory program for the FDA, at the hearing.

The Federal Drug Administration is performing an analysis on medical marijuana so it can make a recommendation to the DEA.

When asked if there is time, Rhoden said: "Dravet Syndrome lost 14 children last year".